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A sample of our defender's exclusive interview from the Derby County edition of Grove Street

22 June 2021

Wolfsberger’s involvement in the Europa League is testament to how the Austrian league is gradually becoming stronger each season. When Sole and co first qualified in the 15/16 campaign, they were eliminated by Borussia Dortmund in the third qualifying round after overcoming Belarusian outfit Shakhtyor Soligorsk 3-0 on aggregate.

Four years later, they made the group stage and faced Roma, Borussia Monchengladbach and Istanbul Basaksehir, with a 4-0 win in Germany arguably the highlight for Michael.

“For me, it was a great experience because we were a very small club in Austria but we went the hard way there,” continued the defender. “We had direct qualification and had the chance to play in Dortmund, so it was a great feeling to compete at this level in full stadiums.

“In the group stage, it was perfect; we had a good group with Gladbach, Roma and Basaksehir in Istanbul. Everyone thought Basaksehir were not the best team but they were champions in Turkey, so it was a very good group with good games and good results for us.

“As a player, it is a great way to develop in these games because you can compete at a high level and we deserved it because we played a hard season before. It was great for the country – especially the kids – to see that you can play at the highest level in Europe, and I think it will help the club for the next seasons.

“This is the aim of everyone. For us, in Austria, we want to play in the best stadiums and these competitions, so it was a great feeling – especially with your club where you’ve spent a lot of years. We played some really good games and got some victories and I think I will speak about this for years and will explain it to my son, for example.”

After spending his career in southern Austria – 10 years of which were with Wolfsberger – Sole had the opportunity to realise another dream and play in England when Barnsley came calling in January 2020.

It was also the chance to work under Gerhard Struber once more, who had guided WAC to the Europa League group stage before departing for Oakwell a couple of months earlier.

But this would be an entirely different challenge for Michael, who was now the oldest head in the dressing room by quite some distance.

A squad seemingly devoid of any real confidence and rooted to the foot of the Championship, it would take some sort of a minor miracle for the Reds to remain in the second tier, and Sole believes his experience of relegation battles in his native Austria was a major benefit to him.

“When you have one or two seasons when you have these kind of situations, you know how to handle it,” he reasoned. “You know how to handle the training, the mood in the team and how to handle a win or a loss so you can put everything in a good order.

“You know that it can go to the last game, like we saw in Brentford, so I think this experience is very helpful and when I decided to come here, I had no doubts that we could do it. Of course, it was at the end and very close, but I had no doubts that we could stay in the league because we had a lot of games left and I knew how fast the situation could change.

“It was the best decision that I’ve ever made to come here.”

Order your Derby County edition of Grove Street to read the full interview with Michael.

Please note that limited numbers of this programme are available.

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